Angie Hall Sandifer's apartment overflows with ribbons, veils, feathers and mannequins. Her friends call it the hat factory.
She loves the high ceilings and spaciousness of her place in the Northern Warehouse Artists' Cooperative in St. Paul's Lowertown, where she has lived for a decade.
But there is one thing she would like to change. In those 10 years, she said she has never seen another black woman living in the building.
Tax-subsidized affordable housing for artists is far less diverse than other housing complexes that received federal low-income housing tax credits, according to researchers with the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota who released a report on the subject this month.
The report focused on 27 housing projects in Minneapolis and St. Paul that received federal low-income housing tax credits. Six of them, including the trendy A-Mill and Schmidt artist lofts, were created for artists. Researchers found more than 82 percent of people living in the artist housing were white, compared with less than 30 percent in tax credit-funded buildings in general. There also are far fewer families or adults older than 62 in the artist housing, the report says, citing demographic data that landlords provided to the state.
This special subsidized housing appears to perpetuate segregation problems, said research fellow Will Stancil, who produced the report with law professor Myron Orfield and others at the institute.
"It is almost like they have two dual systems of housing," Orfield said. "They have one for poor minorities in poor neighborhoods that's not very fancy, and they have a really fancy bunch of housing for white people in fancy neighborhoods."
But property owners who used the tax credits to fund artist housing said they followed federal fair housing regulations and tried to include artists from diverse backgrounds.
While the topic of the report is "hugely important," it did not give a balanced view of artist housing, said Colin Hamilton, a senior vice president at Artspace, one of the developers the report criticized.
Outreach in other locations
Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, has been at the forefront of the movement to develop affordable housing for artists and often reuses historic buildings. It owns numerous projects around the state and country, including the Tilsner Artists' Cooperative in St. Paul's Lowertown where 92 percent of the residents are white, and 653 Artist Lofts in Frogtown, where 50 percent are white, according to the report.
"The fact that some are primarily white doesn't mean the model is always that," Hamilton said, adding that they try to reflect the makeup of the community where the building is located.
Hamilton said the report ignored many examples elsewhere, including Artspace's new building in New York, where they helped people of all backgrounds navigate the application process.
It seems such efforts did not happen in the Twin Cities, resulting in the "peculiar" racial makeup of the artist housing complexes, said James Wilkinson, a housing advocate and supervising attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid who was quoted in the report.
Property owners may have created barriers to access by requiring artists to provide a portfolio, a practice more common among formally educated artists whose first language is English, he said. And they may not be marketing the apartments to communities of color.
Hall Sandifer said the only reason she knew about Northern Warehouse Artists' Cooperative was because she previously lived next door.
"I would like to see more people of color," she said. "I certainly know that there are a lot of wonderful great artists out there who would love to have the affordable live-work space."
Megan Ryan, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which collects data used in the report, cautioned that it does not give a full picture of who lives in the buildings because many residents do not report their race and ethnicity.
"While there may be some wiggle room in these figures, the trends we observe are overwhelming, not subtle," Stancil said, noting it is the best data available.
It offers a look into who is living in some of the most expensive subsidized housing ever built in Minnesota, he said, such as Dominium's A-Mill Artist Lofts overlooking the Mississippi River and the renovated former Schmidt Brewery building along St. Paul's West 7th Street.
Much of the new artist housing is luxurious, with rooftop clubrooms, fitness centers and fire pits. It also serves residents on the higher end of the low-income scale, according to the report. The average rent for artist housing is about $989 and the average tenant income is $29,890, according data reported to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. In general, Minneapolis and St. Paul residents in affordable housing complexes pay around $849 a month and earn $18,446 a year.
"Very low income families of color … have seen hundreds of millions of dollars of public subsidy, intended to provide stable, integrated housing for their benefit, diverted instead into the production of rent-restricted luxury lodging for a favored class of residents," the report states.